Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinAustin calls video claiming military allowed assailant to stay in uniform ‘disturbing’ Overnight Defense: New Defense chief’s first press conference Defense secretary to Taliban: ‘The violence must decrease now’ MORE said Friday that an end to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan hinges on a reduction in Taliban attacks.
“The violence must decrease now,” he told reporters in his first press conference as Pentagon chief.
The United States has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, a number reached after former President TrumpDonald TrumpUN report says Erik Prince violated arms embargo against Libya: report Lee after Romney’s impeachment vote: There’s enough room in GOP ‘for both of us’ Nunes lawsuit against CNN thrown out MORE earlier this year pressed ahead with a drawdown despite the Taliban not living up to its commitments to reduce attacks and participate in peace talks with the Afghan government.
But Austin — a retired four-star Army general who previously oversaw U.S. forces in the Middle East under former President Obama — said there would be no “hasty” withdrawal.
“We want to do this methodically and deliberately,” he said.
Under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, signed by the Trump administration last year, the Taliban is supposed to deny safe haven to terrorist groups intent on attacking the West, including al Qaeda, in addition to engaging in talks and reducing violence.
In exchange, the U.S. military is supposed to fully withdraw by May. The Taliban has vowed to renew attacks on U.S. forces if they do not withdraw by that date.
Austin said that he is “mindful” of the looming May deadline but indicated that it would not be reached as long as the Taliban are not meeting commitments.
“Clearly the violence is too high right now and more progress needs to be made in the Afghan-led negotiations. I urge all parties to choose the path towards peace,” he said.
The Pentagon is also in the midst of a “rigorous interagency review” of the U.S. deal with the Taliban and its role in Afghanistan, but “at this time, no decisions about our future force posture have been made.”
Austin stressed that the United States will consult with allies and partners in the country and “there will be no surprises” as to Washington’s decision.
He noted that he expressed the same sentiment to NATO allies at the two-day virtual NATO defense ministers meeting earlier this week.
“I told our allies that no matter what the outcome of our review, the United States will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan that puts their forces or the Alliances’ reputation at risk,” he said.
NATO, meanwhile, is awaiting the Biden administration’s decision on Afghanistan. The 30-member alliance currently has more troops in the country than does the United States.
President Biden earlier on Friday also would not reveal his plan for troop levels in Afghanistan.
Speaking at a virtual meeting of the Munich Security Conference, Biden would only pledge to support the Taliban-Afghan government peace process and to keep the country from again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.